The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) hosted Chef Wolfgang Puck as the keynote speaker at the school’s inaugural Los Angeles campus ceremony in early June and Chef Dan Barber at the New York campus ceremony in mid-May. ICE’s west coast campus opened this past year, with the first Culinary Arts and Pastry & Baking Arts classes starting in March 2018.
Wolfgang Puck is the chairman of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, which has hired ICE alumni at restaurants, including Spago and WP24. The iconic chef addressed a crowd inside the Pasadena Playhouse, sharing the story of his remarkable journey, from apprenticing in Austria as a young boy to cooking for Hollywood’s elite. Wolfgang Puck reminded graduates that many opportunities will present themselves, but success does not happen overnight.
“You all have to be patient, you have to learn,” Chef Puck emphasized. “I learned how to cook mostly in France. When I came to America, that work experience enabled me to work at the great French restaurant, Ma Maison, and then to open Spago. At Spago, I added an Italian twist to my dishes and called it California Cuisine. We changed how people thought about pizza. Everyone came to Spago to eat pizza with smoked salmon and caviar, it was so unique at the time … but you are the future. You are going to make this country the number one country in restaurants and the number one country for chefs all over the world.”
Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which has been named “Best Restaurant in America” by Eater, spoke at NYU Skirball Center. He discussed our culture’s craving for connectivity. “We don’t need to create a solution, restaurants are the solution,” Chef Barber said. “Who else does this, really? What other institution encourages this kind of engagement? In a context of pleasure and delight and hedonism, every single service to satisfy what we’re all hard-wired to create: real community and real connection, and by the way, not just with each other. Restaurants can also help satisfy our hard-wired craving for real connection with where our food is grown and who’s growing it for us.”
Matthew Leung, ICE LA’s alumnus speaker, shared how he tried a number of careers before being hospitalized with an autoimmune disease in 2017. Once he regained his health, Matt realized that life was too short to not realize his dreams of becoming a chef, which led him from Chicago to ICE’s Los Angeles campus. Upon finishing the Culinary Arts program, Matt found his first position at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Napa, a regular on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, with Chef Keller winning a James Beard Foundation Award for “Outstanding America.”
In New York, ICE alumna Adrienne Cheatham shared her experiences with chefs Eric Ripert and Marcus Samuelsson, from an executive sous chef position at Le Bernardin to recipe testing for cookbooks, finishing second on “Top Chef,” and most recently launching a pop-up dinner series called SundayBest. “You’ve chosen one of the most diverse, welcoming, dynamic and varied industries to be a part of and there is no direction that you cannot take,” Chef Cheatham said.
In both cities, ICE president and CEO of 24 years, Rick Smilow, kicked off the event with an address highlighting the diversity of ICE’s student body, which included a former hip-hop dancer, Apple product designer, military veteran and 2018 high school grads in LA, and married military vets, a TEDx talk speaker and a minister who lost his home in Hurricane Irma, among many others, in New York.
During his remarks, Rick stressed the importance of teamwork, noting that he had recently been at the James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago and noticed that as he watched and listened to almost 30 chefs accept awards, “the most common word used was teamwork, in every acceptance speech, the chefs stressed the importance of, and thanked their teams.”
“Enjoy the journey you have begun,” Smilow concluded, wishing graduates good fortune and good cooking.